AVAM Gala Honors ‘Zookeeper’s Wife’ Author, Astronaut

Author Diane Ackerman’s writing has inspired AVAM founder Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, left, and is often used in the museum. (Photo by Sue Michlovitz)
(Photo by Kirsten Beckerman)

Famed author Diane Ackerman says her gift is to be surprised all the time and to pay keen attention to her surroundings.

“I wake up startled most days just to be alive on the planet that has golden doodles, parakeets, iguanas, prom dresses and everything else,” she said. “So it’s typical for me to get up in the morning, get out and see what happened overnight in the garden and spend quite a while there. It’s a form of meditation, but it’s also very nourishing for the senses.”

Ackerman, who wrote “The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story,” the book on which the movie is based, and numerous other titles, in turn inspires American Visionary Art Museum founder Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who will honor Ackerman at A Trip to the New Moon: AVAM’s Celestial Gala on Saturday.

“One of the most sensual writers I’ve ever known, because of science and because of her poetic factor, is Diane Ackerman,” Hoffberger said. “She does this holy work of helping to reveal in greater detail the inherent beauty embedded in the everyday.”

The gala — which includes a private viewing of the museum’s newest exhibit, “The Great Mystery Show”; a cocktail hour; an honorary dinner; and silent short films with musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra — also honors Richard Garriott, a video game developer and second-generation astronaut who organized the world’s first art show in space.

Museum-goers marvel at AVAM’s current exhibit, “The Great Mystery Show.” (Photo by Shawn Levin)

While the gala will mark Ackerman’s first visit to AVAM, she may see some familiar passages throughout the museum, which uses quotes, scientific facts, lyrics from songs and humorous writing to flesh out its exhibitions.

“For years, ‘A Natural History of the Senses’ has been one of my primary go-to books for inspirational facts about how we perceive the world through our senses and what a multilayered gift the world is to our senses,” Hoffberger said.

She also found great inspiration in Ackerman’s “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which the autor wrote from the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabrinski, who, with her husband, Jan, director of the Warsaw Zoo, saved the lives of 300 Jews by secretly sheltering them in their villa and the zoo’s structures.

Ackerman said she never intended to write a Holocaust-related book, but she was intrigued by the woman who adopted “orphan people” as well as animals, she said.

“This was a different way into the story of the Holocaust. This was a way in through the animals, really a story about how good can come out of the worst evil,” she said.

“Peepish Poe” by Christian Twamley, 2017. Marshmallow Peeps. (Courtesy of the Artist)

She said Antonina was a compassionate hero who made sure the people they were sheltering didn’t lose their sense of humanity.

“She essentially had therapy animals all over the house. She did what we’d call a version of therapy with people, she accepted them as family members. … She brought them out every night after the lights were out. There was music and art,” Ackerman said. “She was trying to keep the human spirit alive, and she risked her life for it.”

Ackerman can’t wait to finally see AVAM.

“I’m thrilled, I’m delighted, I’m honored, and I think it’s going to be great fun,” she said. “The hardest part for me will be not to be distracted every second by all the wonderful things on display.”

A Trip to the New Moon: AVAM’s Celestial Gala is Saturday at 5 p.m., 800 Key Highway, Baltimore. Tickets are $250 for members and $300 for nonmembers. Visit avam.org.


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